In the northeast section of this country lies two entities. They belong to the same state but they may as well be on different continents. If one of these entities had their way, in fact, there would be a lengthy split and new lines would need to be drawn up. Waze and google maps would need to invent new software just to update the navigational re-arrangements.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to confirm to you that there are indeed *two* New Yorks…
There’s New York City…
And there’s the rest of the state…
Everything outside city lines is basically “upstate”.
Two different contracts put me in two completely different “upstates” over the spring and summer of 2018 and I had the time of my life. I took the train to New York City once for a weekend to see my cousin in a dance showcase. I learned how it feels to be in love with city life and country life at the same time.
I like to describe my time in New York in three’s.
Spring was spent way upstate (like… Canada, upstate).
Summer was spent in lower “central” New York close to the Pennsylvania border.
(if you’re confused by geography, just go to New York and you’ll be even more confused. NYC is a lot further south than you think)
And… one magical weekend in between was spent in the city that never sleeps.
One taught me love, one taught me patience, and one taught me that you never, under any circumstances, mention the term “almond milk” to dairy farmers.
Before we dive into the hip happenings of Carthage and Elmira, I’d like to update my list of “things I’ve learned about moving”. When you move every 2-4 months, this list becomes you’re #1 how-to guide for surviving transitions. Sort of like “How To Not Lose Your Sanity in 92 Days.”
You can throw as much of your crap away as you want and it will never be enough. How does one accumulate so much!? I come from a long line of pack rats, that’s how. Thank you, mother. I swear my car is the Mary Poppins bag of vehicles. I even got a new car that was supposed to be bigger and this gypsy caravan still looks like a can of Pilsbury rolls about to bust as soon as you press on the seams. Things have been known to fly out when I open the doors. You’ve been warned. Might want to stand back a little there, Jason. (I give names to people I don’t know. The guy pumping gas looked like a Jason.)
Whilst moving in to your new living quarters, might I suggest unpacking everything you’ll need for the first week all at once. Put away your clothes. You can even hang some up if you’re feeling particularly adult-ish. Go to Target. Make a grocery run. Do not go to sleep on sunday night with your room still full of an unpacked life. It’s what I did in Minnesota and I did things drastically different when I got to New York. The stress level goes down immensely, trust me.
Until you have to re-arrange furniture.
You think you know how to unfold a futon…
Now for the nitty gritty…
The town of Carthage, New York is nestled between dairy farms, the high peaks of the Adirondack mountains and Lake Ontario towns that put a Nicholas Sparks cover to shame. It’s home to Amish families, coyote families, civil war battlefields, and a very selective society known as the “46-ers”
On the 46-ers: A 46-er is anyone who has climbed all 46 of the high peaks. Not all at once, they’re not THAT crazy. You strap on a backpack of stuff and climb for hours or days. You can choose which peak(s) to start with based on whether or not you tend to take the stairs on purpose if there’s a perfectly good elevator in operation. Anyway, the views are spectacular but considering at that time I couldn’t even climb 3 flights of said stairs without my lungs and glutes burning with the flames of a thousand suns…
…I didn’t think this was a great time to attempt this. I did however start training for a Tough Mudder (more on that later) so that counts for something, right?
On the Amish: I have to say, Amish folk stay out awfully late for living a simple life… Quite a few times I heard the *clomp clomp* go by around midnight and I thought “hmm some kind of late night Amish rager? I’m intrigued. Tell me more. Where da party at?” They also have their own parking spots to tie up the horses in case they need to make a walmart run. I have no idea why I thought this was so endearing but this just adds to the charm.
Also, I was serious about the whole “don’t mention almond milk to dairy farmers” thing.
Seriously. Don’t do it.
Speaking of dairy… for the love of all that is holy, find a Stewart’s and get a milkshake… or 5… I won’t judge 😉
On the scenery: If sea life is more your style, drive about 45 minutes west/northwest towards the thousand islands or Lake Ontario. You’ll find the water towns of Alexandria Bay and Sackets Harbor. You will want to move to these towns immediately and stay forever.
Alex Bay is a town of ferry boats and love stories. It’s the kind of place that sets the scene of an Alaskan-esque Ryan Reynolds rom-com. Complete with a real live castle built by a baron in the 1800’s as a wedding present to his wife.
You have to take a ferry across the bay to the island shaped like a heart that houses this castle. You may, if you like, pretend you are in a movie as your hair blows in the wind while the ferry sails you across the water.
No? Just me? Okay then.
Sackets Harbor is a bit smaller but take one stroll down the brick sidewalks along the bays that open into Ontario and you’ll never want to leave.
Have a drink on the literal dock of the bay. You may even stumble into a gypsy shop tucked away behind the light poles and take an hour to just be in your element. You’ll also stumble into old battlefields that you may not fully understand the logistics of. But how humbling it feels to stand on a blade of grass that was once covered in gun smoke and heavy boots.
Tupper Lake is a bit farther of a drive but the Wild Center is a must see.
Sit on a giant man-made spider web.
Stand inside a bird’s nest and look out over the Adirondacks.
Walk through a literal enchanted forest.
…The above forest is tucked away behind the pond at the Wild Center. As soon as you duck under the branches of the first tree, you can hear it: a soft ethereal muffle that only gets louder as you push more branches out of your way. It’s an auditory artistry that someone composed exactly for these trees. If you try not to look too hard… you won’t notice the black boxes where the sound emanates from. And you can pretend that it’s simply just …magic.
On the wildlife: Let’s circle back around to the coyotes, shall we? You thought I forgot, didn’t you? Well at the end of this contract I had to move out of my AirBnB and my friend Shannon offered to let me rent her family’s camper for my last month two miles down the road. If you’ve never heard a pack of coyotes wooping their way slowly towards you, it’s one of those sounds that you don’t have to ever have heard before to know it can’t be anything good. One minute we’re laughing around the firepit roasting marshmallows and the next minute I hear these bellowing hollers echoing in the distance.
Me: *innocent city girl* “What’s that???”
We look at each other.
Shannon: “Grab Sammy NOW.”
…Don’t have to tell me twice.
Actual re-enactment of me in this moment:
I thought I’d try on this new look called being bold when this season began. When the weather warmed up I ventured out to one of the state parks with the intent on getting my hike on Cheryl Strayed-style.
I could do this.
I could be one of those people.
I was tough.
I took one look at the sign at the entrance with the big bear and tips on how to NOT get eaten and I said NOPE. Not today, Berta. Not today.
I would have to ease myself in to this lifestyle. City Ging left country Ging in hiding for just a little bit longer…
Now on to Elmira.
A summer spent under waterfalls and among grape fields of the 100+ wineries of the Finger Lakes. (Boy, do New Yorkers love their wine. My kinda people)
Elmira is a Mark Twain soul stuck in an industrialized body.
Seriously, Mark Twain spent his summers writing novels on a farm there. Nowadays there’s a prison in the far corner of town and it may have a few streets you wouldn’t walk down at night alone. But what city doesn’t?
And every now and then a street art festival will close down the roads and smother the pavement in bright-colored chalk.
You can make your way up the winding turns of Harris Hill and have your pick of trails of trails to run…
…Hop on a hang glider or fly in a plane without an engine.
You heard me.
Never quite figured out the plane-with-no-engine adventure thing.
They lost me at “So there’s two planes. One with an engine. And one without…”
You can take a drive to Buttermilk Falls…
And Taughannock State Park.
(still can’t pronounce that one correctly but once you come around the corner and get to the top of the overlook you’ll be speechless anyway so it really doesn’t matter) …
In the midst of all that adventuring, I did something incredibly terrifying for me. I signed up to run through 5 miles of mud while scaling walls and crawling under barbed wire.
And now that you’ve read all about my extremely honed wilderness survival skills, I would also like to touch on my supurb athleticism as well.
Let’s cut the crap.
I was never someone people used the term “athletic” to describe. I “played” softball (bring it in, everybody)…
…and really was only good at tennis because it didn’t require any throwing or catching with my hands. I was more of a dance/cheerleading girl. I got exercise-induced asthma in high school during conditioning drills at tennis practice and almost threw up on my teammate. I once showed up to a 5k during PT school with Starbucks in hand fully expecting to walk and not phased at all by the judgey mc-judge-ersons.
When my dad found out I signed up to do a Tough Mudder he said: “Oh like… to watch?” NO DAD to participate. Thanks for the confidence.
My enemies will know I never back down from a challenge. (JK I don’t have enemies, I love everybody!) My friends that I signed up to do this with were equally concerned about our respective fitness levels but they kept saying things like “Oh don’t worry!” and “We don’t have to be in shape! We’ll just have fun with it and wing it!”.
I don’t like being bad at things. And if I agree to do a thing, you’d better believe I’m gonna be a badass at that thing. What’s all this “just for fun” crap… I’m a capricorn, baby, we don’t do “just for fun”.
Well, I trained. Hard. And I did the thing. I couldn’t walk or open my car door afterwards and my legs looked like I had just tried to scale the wall of that underground prison in the 3rd Batman movie. But I did it. And that beer they give you at the end really is the best tasting beer you will ever have.
I did something so terrifyingly out of my comfort zone that I almost backed out multiple times because I wouldn’t have been able to handle it if I failed.
Let me say this:
I trained. I ran. I did pull-ups after work every night with my coworkers looking at me funny. I felt weak at so many points of that journey.
And I have never felt stronger than when I felt extremely weak and pushed through it anyway.
Did I climb those walls without help? No. Did I have the mental strength on my own to keep going when I wanted to stop? Absolutely not. I had people. And even the strangers became my people. Everyone is your people during a Tough Mudder race.
So guys, listen to me.
Do not ever underestimate your power.
I found mine this summer. I discovered strengths I never knew I had. I lost my fear. I did all the things.
The process of discovering your own power is terrifying and painful. It’s an exhausting climb to the top of that mountain.
It’s the biggest rush of freedom you will ever feel.
It’s getting to the top of that mountain and looking back at the blood, sweat, and tears you dropped like bread crumbs while stumbling your way through rocks and muck.
…Just to look down and realize you. are. still. standing.
…It’s getting lost in the Met.
…But never feeling so in love with a city as you are with this one.
It’s drinking peach bellinis at 11 AM watching sailboats slide through the finger lakes; when the server sits you at the end of the dock cause she knows you like that, guh.
It’s going from the lung capacity of an infant to NEEDING to run to clear your head.
It’s waking up at 7 in the morning to check out a new hiking spot (who am I?!)
It’s activating and de-activating dating apps a million times ‘cause you’re an independent woman who don’t need no man but also can’t cook worth a damn but also ain’t got time for nobody’s drama, ya dig? *snaps fingers in Z formation*
It’s booking a flight to a traveler’s conference in Vegas where the list of people you know is exactly ZERO and leaving 3 days later a changed person; feeling so inspired that you truly think you can conquer the world now; with new friends that you may as well have known for 3 decades.
*shout out to the dream team*
It’s all your money after gas and groceries going to plane tickets because part of your heart lies in every corner of this country.
It’s letting yourself daydream of what your life could look like someday living on a farm raising babies and horses. Or doing life like Serena Van der Woodsen hailing ubers and strolling through central park to get to work and frequenting hipster coffee shops.
It’s turning each new temporary home into as much of your soul’s home as you can for 3 months…
I learned to love hiking.
I learned to love the feeling of my lungs burning and every muscle on fire as I pushed myself to get stronger.
I need the fresh air.
I need the ground at my feet.
I need the horizon at eye level.
Halfway through my time in New York, I remember my friend Caitlin calling me. I was likely driving through some mountains or maybe passing a horse and buggy. I usually make my phone calls on the road. It’s my time to catch up with people in between belting out Beyonce and jamming to Stevie Nicks. The conversation usually starts with: “Heather! Where are you?”
On this particular day I said:
I’m not entirely sure.
Somewhere in New York.